Shakespeare Would Have Been a Rapper

If Shakespeare was alive today, he would have been a rapper, spitting lyrics over beats and battling with the best of them.

Ok, maybe not, maybe he’d just be a critically acclaimed writer/director combination, but I’ve been listening to Rap and Rap Battles recently and something in them struck me.

My music taste varies considerably, in my youth I was a typical ‘Metal Head‘, with the long hair and black clothing, and whilst I’d have denied it back then, I’ve always enjoyed a cheesy pop song. Nowadays I’m far less judgmental, I’ll listen to anything and, if it’s catchy, I’ll be singing along. Since I don’t understand music (I don’t play a single instrument), I don’t hear how ‘technical‘ a certain song is; it’s not the Lens I see through. I understand words though, and lyrics stand out to me. 

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Me at 16… Yes… 16! My hair got even longer before I cut it off at 18.

Speaking of words, I love Shakespeare. I’m not a mega fan, I can’t tell you where each quote comes from, but I’ve seen a majority of his plays now (either at the RSC or via the Live Streams into a Cineworld Cinema). One thing I love about Shakespeare, more than anything, is his ability to manipulate his language, his ability to twist a phrase. Shakespeare even manages this in a play title, lets take ‘Much Ado About Nothing‘, which actually has three meanings. Much ado about nothing, where ‘nothing‘ means literally ‘nothing‘, thus making a big deal out of something that isn’t, a mountain out of a molehill if you will. The second meaning is the word ‘noting‘, which would have been a near homophone in Elizabethan times, and thus meaning to make a great deal out of gossiping, literally ‘noting‘ what other people are doing. The third, and raunchier interpretation, is due to ‘nothing’ being slang for ‘An O Thing‘ in Elizabethan times, meaning, quite bluntly, a Vagina. This makes the third meaning of Much Ado, to mean making a great deal out of sex, another running theme of the play.

This is what I think ties Shakespeare to Rap. Good rap is more than someone speaking fast over a beat, its the ability to turn and twist a phrase. Poetry creates an illusion, it can portray emotion, it can paint pictures and take you places. A good poem leaves me with a lasting feeling, and whilst there’s cross over between Poetry, Spoken Word, and Rap, I feel the latter relies far more heavily on the clever‘ one liners that are great in the moment. Is it more fleeting? Perhaps. However, the most quotable of Shakespeare is the stand-out lines, the ‘Country Matters‘. If you sit and break down rap lyrics, you realise the amount of ways they can make a phrase turn, the double, or even triple, entendres. There’s such play on words, irony, pop-cultural references, political statements, that a comparison to our favourite playwright is easily made. Sure, there’s also a lot of false bravado and sex talk, but isn’t that basically Shakespeare too? 

The reason I’m writing this isn’t really to tell you Shakespeare would have been a Rap artist, instead it’s to analyse what I like, and something that’s occurred to me this week is that I like Shakespeare and Rap for similar reasons. Shakespeare grips me when a line stands out, Rap gets me when a line makes me jaw drop in a similar fashion. To boil it down, what I simply love is language and an ability to use it. Language is such an amazing gift that we’ve been granted and it’s important to note that people are utilising it all over the world, in so many different mediums. It’s not just the classics we should look to for our inspiration. Authors write with poetic lines, whilst Poets weave stories through their stanzas. Genres converge, and I think some people see it whilst others refuse to look at other mediums due to the culture that surrounds them. Basically, I’m saying take a look at everything around us, challenge yourself and see where writing is being used differently. There’s enough room in this world for anything, and we should seek inspiration in everything.

What do you think? Am I making sense? And how about you have you ever noted a similarity between two vastly different genres? Let me know in the comments below!

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27 thoughts on “Shakespeare Would Have Been a Rapper

    1. I do too, but it wasn’t as catchy a title… Haha. Not to mention, he kind of already is. Plus Spoken Word, Slam Poetry, and Rap have a lot of cross over so I didn’t think it too much of a leap! Haha 🙂 Thanks for reading!

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    1. Ah, I see his plays quite often! I’m lucky enough to live near to the RSC, and the ones I don’t see live I try to catch in our cinema, that streams them 🙂 I definitely recommend! Can take a while to pick the language up again, but then it flows easier

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great post! I’m an author so I get how you feel about the English language. It’s awesome! I’ve never been a huge Shakespeare fan, but after reading your post, I’m more inclined to give him a second chance. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I definitely think he’s worth a second chance! I often think it depends on performance too. Reading him just isn’t the same as seeing someone do him justice on stage, in my eyes. It allows all that intonation and tone to come across.

      Thanks for reading, Lisa! Glad you enjoyed 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. angelanoelauthor

    Love! I learned something new about Shakespeare AND appreciate Rap music more. WIN WIN!
    I recently watched a new mini-series on HBO called The Defiant Ones–have you seen it? I won’t spoil it for you, but the history it tells of the rise of Rap and how it’s not just about the words, but what’s behind, underneath, and above them is the real essence of art. Thanks for the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Top banana Shaun; lyrics in songs are what appeal to me too so synergy there. Nice reflecting on the great bard too; if he were in the now then what would his word-craft tumble out? Would he have the same motivations or have drifted into something else entirely and his creativity lost? Interesting to ponder the permutations.

    Good post; enjoyed it tremendously 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s a very interesting, and also very hard, thing to theorise… Really, Shakespeare left a massive mark in everything we know of media today. If he was here now, you can assume he’d be equally as groundbreaking, but then again, without his past work as a foundation would film/music of now be as it is? and if it was, would he still be able to revolutionise? My head hurts just thinking about it haha.

      Thanks for reading, Gary!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think its more a what if writers ponderance rather than a true theorise moment. Shakespeare’s mark, as you rightly say, is huge. Not only in terms of his work, but also in common everyday phrases which most folk don’t even know came from his work. I shall add to your head hurt by casting in if he were here now rather than then; where would a lot of language and literature be now? Would he revolutionise or be lost in modern education because his genius never flourished? Would his vacuum have been filled by someone else and the whole course of history now be something else. This post, for example, would now not be about the Bard, but someone else. Would it be an accolade post or one that threw accusations about an anti-bard that caused global conflict on an unprecedented “stage”… so many permutations… aspiring wherefore art though aspirin? 🙂

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  4. Loved this. Lyrics always stand out to me. I will read great sentences over and over in books. In The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt wrote, “Life is catastrophe.” That has always stuck in my head. It’s so simple, but says so much. It pierces the heart. I love that about a good lyric or sentence.

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    1. Definitely! It’s one of the plus points of kindle too, the ability to highlight those sentences for easier reflection in future 🙂 I love those standout lines like that. Thanks for reading, Christine!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Definitely agree. I always loved Shakespeare in school, but none of my class mates ever did. I do think teaching these similarities would have made my past classes so much fun! Do you utilise similarities in your teaching, Ritu? 🙂

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  5. Absolutely agree and using rap and slam poetry is a way we often get children engaged in the form before introducing the ‘classic’ version at school. I’m also a huge fan of Horrible Histories for there rap interpretations! I love crossovers in music too and often play the kids well known chart songs in a different genre – the Punk Goes… albums are pretty good for that (if censored appropriately!)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It makes so much sense to use it with kids in School. One of the things I almost referenced, but found it too off-tangent for my post (not to mention I couldn’t find the exact study), was an English teacher in America years back who was struggling to teach the children of his class. He was just told by his peers that it was because they were black, and therefore stupid and unable to learn, but when he attended an underground rap battle, which a lot of his students went to, he realised they actually had an amazing grasp of the English language… Thus proving it was how the subject was taught, not the subject itself.

      I didn’t actually know Horrible Histories did a rap interpretation! But that’s something I definitely need to see now.

      Liked by 2 people

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